Why so many new leaders in Hamilton’s schools this year?

An exclusive review of public records by the Journal-News reveals the reasons behind why so many Hamilton public school students and parents are seeing different principals and assistant principals in their school buildings as the school year starts. Hamilton Schools Superintendent Mike Holbrook says the unusually high number of leadership changes are designed to improve the quality of the 10,000-student city schools.  (File Photo\Journal-News)
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An exclusive review of public records by the Journal-News reveals the reasons behind why so many Hamilton public school students and parents are seeing different principals and assistant principals in their school buildings as the school year starts. Hamilton Schools Superintendent Mike Holbrook says the unusually high number of leadership changes are designed to improve the quality of the 10,000-student city schools. (File Photo\Journal-News)

Hamilton just started the school year with an unusually high number of principals and assistant principals working in different schools, according to an analysis by the Journal-News.

A review of personnel files obtained by the Journal-News through Ohio public records requests revealed a large number of principal and assistant principal job changes but with most of the leadership positions being filled by Hamilton school veterans rather than outsiders.

Of the 30 school principals and assistant principals in the city’s 12 public schools, 15 of them are new to their school buildings this school year.

The many job changes came about in the wake of an unusual simultaneous submission of resignation notices in February by the principal and assistant principal at Hamilton High School.

The resignations – which were effective at the end of last school year – saw high school principal John Wilhelm and assistant principal Jana Lewis announce on Feb. 25 their pending departures in July.

ExploreHamilton High School principal, assistant principal submit resignations on same day

The two high school leader vacancies going into the current school year – combined with a few more planned departures of school administrators – initiated a domino effect, Hamilton Schools Superintendent Mike Holbrook said, adding the result was higher than normal turnover rate for building administrators though he said the district does not specifically track such rates in recent years.

Holbrook’s previously planned strategy to move around administrators was sped up and eventually included 15 principals and assistant principals working in different schools when classes opened last month.

A review by the Journal-News of the personnel files of all Hamilton principals and assistant principals moving into new jobs revealed none had received any negative job evaluations and all 15 employees had uniformly positive work records.

The job changes in the 10,000-student city school system were designed to better take advantage of each principal and assistant principals’ strengths, said Holbrook.

Holbrook stressed most of the school administrator changes involved promotions and lateral job changes of principals and assistant principals who already had years of experience in the district.

And he said the school system’s leadership academy, which he has stressed since his promotion from associate superintendent to district leader in March 2019, has provided a greater number of qualified, internal candidates to take charge of local school buildings.

Cultivating home-grown school leaders is a priority for the district, he said.

Overall, said Holbrook, starting at the beginning of last school year and into the current school year “almost 81 percent – 25 (school administrators and the executive director of human resources) positions out of 31 total positions - were filled by internal candidates due to the training provided by … the district’s leadership academy.”

“The district is now extremely fortunate to have quality individuals ready to be promoted” to fill vacancies after the end of last school year,” said Holbrook.

“And these are not new people. Some of this is just right-sizing and putting people in the best positions for them when the opportunity became available. We want to put people in the areas where they can be most successful,” he said.

For example, said Holbrook, the district’s eight elementary schools “that have their own communities and their own personalities and with that different skill sets are required (of grade-school principals and assistant principals).”

So, he said, moving an assistant principal from one school to another allows that administrator to gain different experiences and skills “so when a principalship comes up, they have experiences in multiple settings, so they are qualified for whatever setting becomes available.”

“Three years ago, we started a leadership academy in Hamilton,” for helping teachers – and administrators - with professional development should they later decide to pursue a higher level, supervisory position, Holbrook said.

He described the many changes as “a positive story about the leadership capacity of Hamilton Schools.”

The leader of the governing board overseeing Hamilton Schools agrees.

Hamilton Board of Education President Laurin Sprague said the board watched closely and approved each new employment contract as Holbrook made the historically high number of changes among building leaders.

“There was no dissatisfaction with what he (Holbrook) was doing,” said Sprague, a former Hamilton school principal.

“Mike has a very innate understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of our administrative staff and he puts them where they are going to shine,” he said.

Holbrook, said Sprague “has emphasized the leadership academy (training) and that gives our principals and assistant principals a skill set … from that professional development.”

Sprague also touted a series of introduction videos done by many of the principals taking over new Hamilton schools - available for school families, students and faculty to see online prior to classes starting last month – as easing the many leadership changes.

“We’ve got some real winners here and I’m very optimistic and very excited with the staff we now have in place,” he said.

Schools among Hamilton’s 12 buildings with different principals or assistant principals this school year compared to last school year:

Hamilton High School: Principal Jon Szary, former Wilson Middle School principal. Assistant Principal Joe Muhlberg, outside hire but former teacher at Garfield Middle School.

Hamilton High School Freshman Campus: Ty Smallwood, principal, internal promotion, Megan Eichenberger, assistant principal, promoted Hamilton teacher.

Wilson Middle School: Principal Kristin Yordy, former Brookwood Elementary principal. Rachel Dietsch, assistant principal, promoted Hamilton teacher.

Garfield Middle School: Alice Rose, assistant principal, requested internal placement. Michelle Beumer, assistant principal, outside hire.

Brookwood Elementary: Mary Ann Hazlett, returned to district after recent retirement, former long-time principal of Riverview Elementary. Whitney Conrad, assistant principal, former assistant principal at Crawford Woods Elementary.

Crawford Woods Elementary: Assistant Principal Sue Ernst, promoted Hamilton teacher.

Highland Elementary: Principal Ryan Britton, internal promotion from assistant principal at Ridgeway Elementary.

Linden Elementary: Principal Taylor Cox, internal promotion from assistant principal at Hamilton High School Freshman Campus.

Ridgeway Elementary: Assistant Principal Hillary Snively, outside hire.

Riverview Elementary: Assistant Principal Ellen Lawson, outside hire.